Jeremy Hunt, the newly appointed Health Secretary, sent shockwaves across the political spectrum on October 5, when he announced that he supported a dramatic reduction in the UK abortion limit to 12 weeks – half the current limit.
The backlash was immediate and the Conservatives rapidly turned to damage control, with Cameron stating that these were Hunt’s personal views, and had no bearing on current government policy.
Hunt cited “medical evidence” as the reason behind his views, although he has no medical training. His lack of experience is expected, and supposedly compensated for with the vast numbers of advisors and boards. But what happens when these advisors are ignored?
David Nutt was chairman of the Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). In 2009 he published research in which he found that, statistically speaking, taking ecstasy carried lower risks than horse riding. This was supported by a vast body of scientific evidence, but caused a firestorm in government. Nutt was dismissed from his post.
Regardless of a politician’s academic or professional background, it is paramount that they respect the expertise of their peers. Hunt made vague references to ‘medical evidence’ when stating his beliefs on abortion – despite the fact that scientific consensus states that the 24-week limit is both medically and morally sufficient. Hunt is still wet around the ears in his role as Health Secretary, and errant remarks are, to an extent, understandable. However, it is important that Hunt realises the dividing line between personal beliefs and policy.
We are lucky enough to live in a country where we are entitled to believe in whatever we want. I am proud that, in this country, women are entitled to freedoms and rights that are denied them in countless areas across the globe. Abortion is a divisive issue, and rightly so. Decisions regarding human lives should never be taken lightly. They should not be made subject to religion or personal opinion. They must respect the rights of women to take charge of their own bodies – and they must be based on concrete scientific evidence.
Hunt is entitled to his opinion – provided it remains just that.